Vaccine hope for Alzheimer sufferers

Tue, Jun 19, 2012, 01:00

AT LAST there may be light at the end of a terrifying tunnel that plunges Alzheimer’s victims into a twilight zone of confusion and dependence, putting enormous responsibilities and emotional strain on families and ever more complexities of care on help agencies.

Groundbreaking research in Sweden has brought new hope for sufferers and their families with the encouraging news that early symptoms may be “frozen” in future without further progression of the disease, thanks to a vaccine capable of arresting the disease in the early and moderate stages.

Eight out of 10 volunteers who took part in a vital trial of a new vaccine developed antibodies against Beta-Amyloid, a substance that kills brain cells and causes the disease.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and the medicines in use can only mitigate the symptoms.

In the hunt for a cure, scientists are following several avenues of attack, of which vaccination is currently the most popular.

The first human vaccination study, pioneered a decade ago in Sweden, revealed too many adverse reactions so had to be discontinued.

Swedish researchers – at the forefront already in efforts to find a cure for this seriously debilitating disease – continued the quest to overcome earlier setbacks.

One of the leaders of the vaccine trial, Prof Bengt Winblad of Karolinka Institute’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centre and a leading medical world authority on the disease, said, “The fact that 80 per cent of patients involved in our trials developed their own protective antibodies so they did not suffer any side effects is hugely significant and encouraging.

“A larger clinical trial has started across 10 countries and we will do more trials with 1,000 patients at a later stage, looking at those with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s to confirm the efficiency of the vaccine (CAD 106).”

If these are successful then the vaccine could be available within five to six years.

The new active immunisation treatment uses a type of vaccine designed to trigger the body’s immune defence against Beta-Amyloid, the plaque-like substance which accumulates, damaging and eventually destroying the brain cells in sufferers.

According to the World Health Organisation, dementia is the fastest growing global health epidemic of our age.

The disease affects almost 44,000 people in Ireland and touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of family members. Estimates suggest that within 20 years the numbers will double.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia in Ireland, accounts for 66 per cent of all cases.

“With people living a lot longer in the western developed world, it is a race against time to combat the enormous increase in dementia and Alzheimer’s , but we still treat Alzheimer’s with the first generation of drugs, the last approved drug goes all the way back to 2002,” Prof Winblad warned.

“Ongoing research is vital to mitigate all that human suffering, the immense cost to society and healthcare systems, arresting its development and finding a cure. We believe we have now found a ground stone at last to work on towards that end.”

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